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Could Twitter & Zoopla data reduce the costs of next ONS census ?





The ONS has been experimenting with data from mobile phone users, electricity smart meters, Twitter and property site Zoopla, in four pilot studies aimed at making the survey’s output more relevant to modern life.

It said this would provide insight into mobility and migration thanks to geo-located tweets and mobile phone tracking. It will identify long-term unoccupied properties from electricity smart meters and enhance the country’s address register — including park caravan homes — using data from Zoopla.

However, critics have warned the changes would raise concerns among privacy campaigners and could make the census incomparable with past versions.

Jane Naylor, head of the ONS’s Big Data Project, said she was aware of the ethical and privacy concerns but said: “It isn’t just about saving money, it’s about updating and modernising the output that we can produce, keeping relevant and meeting our user needs.”

The ONS hopes the introduction of alternative sources will reduce respondents’ burden and improve the quality, timeliness and frequency of the information it publishes.

Roeland Beerten, director of policy and public affairs at the Royal Statistical Society, said the ONS needed to prove merged data could be used in a meaningful way. “If the ONS think they can do it, great, but they would have to actually provide the evidence,” he said.





It isn’t just about saving money, it’s about updating and modernising the output that we can produce

Beyond the challenge of integrating commercial sources, Mr Beerten said there was a problem in the UK with different departments holding data they were reluctant to share.

Jane Frost, CEO of the Market Research Society, said it was best to “modernise the existing census that we have been working on for the best of one hundred and odd years”.

According to Ms Frost, merging census data with commercial and administrative sources will prove challenging and the result will not be comparable with past censuses, “so your trend data is going to be completely off”.



Nigel Swier, Office for National Statistics (ONS) @ Data for Policy 2015


onthemarketblog first reported that Zoopla Property Group, which owns the British property website Zoopla.co.uk, has selected business intelligence provider Birst's cloud platform in a bid to bring together its sales, marketing and operations data.


Birst said that its Cloud BI platform will be used to integrate data from the property group's CRM system, marketing automation, web analytics and social platforms, as well as data from across the group's online property brands. 

These include Zoopla, PrimeLocation and HomesOverseas. In the process, the company hopes that it can improve its marketing campaigns by targeting the right audience more efficiently. 


In 2011, 94 per cent of people took part in the census. With the new method, the ONS is hoping to reach 100 per cent.

Andy Teague, leader of the ONS’s Beyond 2021 Project in the Census Transformation Programme, said the ONS hoped the new census would be cheaper “but there’s no real firm estimates”.

The programme will publish its recommendations in 2023.

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